John Birmingham: On Father - In Conversation With Paul Barclay Review @ Brisbane Powerhouse

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John Birmingham has been doing this writing thing a long time. When he sat down to talk, he seemed to find the words easily enough.


Keenly intelligent, thoughtful, with a wicked sense of humour and a confidence to speak his truths he proved entertaining and the time flew by.

There is no question he is open, at one point, Paul Barclay asked him whether it was difficult to be so personal with his latest work? He responded, “Have you read ‘Felafel’?” in reference to his famed first book, and the audience laughed. Later he articulated that the full experience of being a writer is to be read and that no matter what you write about, you’re pouring yourself into that venture which leads to a vulnerability. With that vulnerability you have to become inured to negative responses.

This informs how John presented himself, he talked openly about his life but remained composed throughout. This was a public persona for a public space, the author demonstrating a keen sense to be entertaining and honest but not let it all hang out.

Those hoping for a cathartic display of emotion sharing will not have found it on stage at the Powerhouse. They will find it in John’s heartfelt written words throughout the pages of ‘On Father’. In that essay he has written about the death of his father due to cancer and his own depression that followed. While John remained tempered, he admirably spoke about this very personal grief sharing his thoughts and feelings. By the very nature of the subject matter and how it is universally felt by so many, the conversation was moving.

True to the intent of the series Writers+Ideas which this is part of, Paul got the author to discuss more widely about his other work including ‘He Died With A Felafel In His Hand’, and the changing landscape of writing and publishing in the digital landscape. This would have been fascinating to those who work in the medium, or have aspirations to, and brought out more of the writer’s interesting past.

However some audience members did start to grow restless, and when questions were thrown out to them they brought it back to the subject of ‘On Father’. While some questions were directly about writing, all of them were linked back to John’s grief and loss.

The show scheduled for one hour and ten minutes ran over by 20 easily.  John Birmingham was generous with his time and his thoughts, as generous and brave as he has been to write about something so painful and personal as the death of a father. The essay has proven inspiring and helpful to those dealing with loss and its author was much the same when discussing it and his profession at the Powerhouse.

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